The Complex (2013): Hideo Nakata Swedish Inspiration

Hiroki Narimiya, Atsuko Maeda in The Complex
Fans of J-Horror and Hideo Nakata will enjoy his 2013 film The Complex aka Kuroyuri danchi. While this offering is not on par with his 1998 film Ring, or the 2002 feature Dark Water, it was influenced, apparently, by the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In. It also seems to have taken a bit from the 2005 thriller Hide and Seek although it has no imaginary friend there are elements of that film’s plot in this low-key J-Horror. The film is one of those plot changing films that the Japanese do so well in the genre of horror.

The Complex starts off as a low-key disturbing look at the new neighbors.

Asuka (Atsuko Maeda) has moved into a new complex with her parents and little brother. She can hear noises from the flat next door and when she suggests complaining her mother tells her that they have only just moved in. The film starts with a happy families feel. Mom in the kitchen, Dad setting up the family TV and little brother Satoshi messing about. The opening sequence does not feel right, the light is too bright, the parents seem a bit off and the singing bird appears to be on a computerized loop.

As unpacking continues, Asuka’s mother asks her to take cakes around to the new neighbors. The girl takes the package next door and while she never sees the inhabitant, the cakes are taken. Later she will hear scratching noises from the apartment next door and an alarm that goes off at half five in the morning.

Asuka also meets a little boy named Minoru whom she plays with. At her nursing school, she learns that her apartment complex has a reputation for being haunted. As she settles in, Asuka finds the next door neighbor’s body and she believes the old man is now haunting her.

She is right, the old man’s spirit has attached itself to her but not for the reason she believes. The ghost is trying to warn her. A cleaning worker, Sasahara (played by Azumi actor Hiroki Narimiya) tries to help Asuka which results in horrific consequences for all concerned.

The movie takes a couple of twists and turns that may seem confusing at first. But like many good J-Horror films, repeated viewings, or just going over the events afterward make the whole thing much clearer. Asuka is desperately lonely and full of guilt from a childhood incident that resulted in the death of her family. The young woman has issues and her moving to the complex has set her up for a fall.

Nakata’s feature feels like a hodgepodge of several different films, the aforementioned movies most surely and it borrows somewhat from the 2001 J-Horror Shadow of the Wraith, aka Ikisudama, just without the teen element and hokey music. This film’s “villain” though is a small “cute kid” ghost that turns out to be quite nasty.

In reality this is pretty standard fare. Nothing like Hideo’s earlier work. (Admittedly it is hard to trump films like Ring, Ring 2, Dark Water and the thought provoking 2010 film Chatroom.) Shot digitally, the film looks good, although the CG in some instances does not hold up to close scrutiny. The shot of the apartment wall changing is clearly computer generated and takes away from the moment.

All the actors do a more than capable job with their various roles. Kudos to Atsuko Maeda who brings Asuka to life. At the end of the film we believe completely in her character and her ending. Hideo Nakata has lost none of his deft touch with horror. This film is enjoyable and there are some real hair raising moments (although not for too long and none that are overly memorable) and bits that will make the viewer think.

The Complex, apparently was made into a television show with Atsuko Maeda (who appears in episode 1.12) titled The Complex: Prologue, This Hideo Nakata offering is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. Those who hate subtitles will want to give this one a miss.

Chatroom (2010): The World Weird Web

Made in 2010 and directed by Hideo Nakata (the directorial genius who brought us Ringu, The Ring 2 and Dark Water just to mention a few) Chatroom is a small budgeted British thriller set in the virtual chat rooms that still fill the internet.

Aaron Johnson (having just finished working on Kick Ass) and Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later, Fright Night 2011) head up the talented cast of youngster who populate the film.

Chatroom is primarily about William (Johnson) a teenager with a penchant for self harm and a disturbed personality. He is very smart and manipulative. He logs on the net and starts searching different chat rooms to see what is on offer. Not liking any of the rooms he visits he decides to start his own chat room, Chelsea Teens.

Chelsea Teens has no real agenda, instead  it focuses on the teens who visit the room and the aspect of their lives that they hate. It’s a place for them to unload. It soon turns into a place where they reveal more information about themselves than they should.

Nakata follows the screenplay by  Enda Walsh who wrote it originally as a stage play, she then adapted it for the screen. Watching the film, it looks very like a stage play. Static sets which the character can move through. Most of the action takes place in the room that represents the Chelsea Teens chat room. Very little of the film takes place out of these huge and empty rooms that represent the different rooms on the net.

That is the genius of the film and it’s setting. By creating the chat rooms as a ‘real’ setting it allows us the audience to feel what the teens are feeling when they interact in the room. All the members of the chat room sit or interact in the room as if they were really there and not typing questions, statements, and responses on a keyboard somewhere.

William sets about building up his Chelsea Teens members by entering other chat rooms and talking the odd member into entering his room. He gets Eva (Poots), Emily (Hannah Murray), Mo (Daniel Kaluuya) and Jim (Matthew Beard) to join. What these new members don’t know is that William doesn’t want to be their friend at all. He is there to create chaos and is trying to see how far his chat room ‘friends’ will follow him.

He gets one member to tell his best friend that he sexually fancies his  under age sister. He tells another to flush his antidepressants down the toilet and stop taking them. All the advice and guidance he hands out is bad or at the very least not very helpful.

William has also discovered another chat room that he begins visiting on a regular basis. This room seems to be dedicated to cyber bullying and each time William returns the intensity of the bullying increases until the victim kills himself. As with every thing else referring to the chat room verse, we see the actual people bullying the helpless victim in person. We see the people and the victim and their actions and reactions, live.

Visibly impressed by the power he has witnessed in the cyber bullying room William decides that he is going to pick the weakest member of his group and get him to kill himself.

This is an amazingly powerful film. Johnson as William turns in a brilliant performance as the evil minded damaged teen who wants to punish the world. Poots is stellar as his ‘on-line’ girlfriend who decides to aid him in his nefarious plots and Beard is spot on as the lad who has to have antidepressants to get through his life.

The film won’t be for everyone. In fact the overall verdict for this film by just about everyone is bad. I think this film was panned by just about every critic there is and public reaction was poor. I honestly can’t figure out why.

The use of the ‘hotel’ rooms to represent the chat rooms and enabling the actors to interact with each other in the rooms really brings home how intimate these chat rooms can be. The set design was great. Each room was dressed as a dowdy and pretty much empty rooms that looked more like warehouse spaces than actual rooms.

When William was cruising the other chat rooms, each room had set dressing to fit the particular type of chat room it was. Eva’s chat  room has her modelling pictures all over the wall and a huge frilly girls bed.

I would give this film a 2 bagger rating. I gobbled the stuff compulsively while watching this film. I didn’t want to look away from the screen for fear that I’d miss something.

Nakata and his cast have shown just how scary and dangerous the internet can be. They do this so well that you could change the www to mean the World Weird Web. So be careful who you interact with, it could be another William.

Aaron Johnson
Aaron Johnson (Photo credit: nick step)

 

Takashi Shimizu: A Director With a Grudge

Takashi Shimizu

Takashi Shimizu is one talented guy. Not only is he a writer and director, but he is also a producer. Shimizu wears all three hats easily. His first foray into the world of cinematic horror was a short two part project to go into a film being produced by a friend. These two shorts were later incorporated into his first ‘proper’ film.

Takashi Shimizu was able to produce his first horror feature because of the popularity of his two short segments in his friends film. With a tiny budget, Shimizu’s first proper film was a “straight to video” called Juon The Curse and Juon The Curse II. Despite the lack of budget and the minimalist approach to special effects, word of mouth soon turned both these films into popular films with audiences in Japan.

With Hideo Nakata‘s The Ring (Ringu) gaining world-wide fan-dom and pretty much starting the J-Horror phenomenon, the popularity of Ringu gave Shimizu the “green-light” to start filming the first of many versions of Ju-on The Grudge.

Ju-on The Grudge is basically Ju-on The Curse with a bigger budget. With the extra money, Shimizu was able to expand the story and increase the expenditure for special effects. He also used the “ghost woman” aka “the grudge girl” who he had first used in the video versions of the film. Takako Fuji has the distinction of being the ‘Grudge Girl’ in all of the Ju-on films until Grudge 3. By the time that Hollywood had taken the reins from Shimizu after the re-make of Grudge 2, they no longer needed the original ghost.

Ju-on: The Grudge 2

*sidenote* Don’t bother watching The Grudge 3, it is execrable.

That Shimizu was able to keep coming back to the “Grudge well” repeatedly is pretty amazing. Especially considering  that right up until The Grudge 2 (Japanese) and the two American re-makes he was able to keep ‘tweaking’ the scare formula and increased the reach of the Ghost each time he re-invented it.

The selling point of all the grudge films is the fact that you don’t have to enter the house or to interact with the ghost to have it come get you. No, the curse or grudge can come calling if you just know someone who has been in the house. Pretty powerful and super scary.

My daughter and I have seen every version of the Grudge films. We have also set through several “making of’s” and listened to several cast and crew commentaries as well.

The first thing you discover is that the man who is responsible for helping to keep J-Horror on the map, loves to laugh and loves to play practical jokes. He is also the one who does the A-h-h-h-h-h-h-h sound that comes from the ghost. We also found out how much trouble he had with the studio brass when they asked him to direct the two re-makes.

Takashi Shimizu had his work cut our for him on both of the American re-makes. The Hollywood producers could not understand why he did not explain the origins of the ghost and a way to defeat it. In their parlance a ghost film had to have a beginning, a  middle and an end. It also had to give the lead protagonist a way to defeat the ghost. They also felt the audience would not be able to follow the film if there was no explanation.

Never mind that the original Grudge films had a rabid international fan-base despite having none of the requisite’s listed by the Hollywood brass. They had gone to the trouble of getting the original director to helm their Hollywood versions and they wanted him to film it their way, damnit.

Shimizu stuck to his guns though and made brilliant remakes of his classic Ju-on series. Ultimately though. he grew tired of the on going battle with the Hollywood execs. That is why on the execrable Grudge 3 (can you tell I didn’t like it?) his name is on the project as being the writer of the original series.

Shimizu has moved on from the Grudge world and continues to make scary films for the J-Horror devotees. He has lost none of his creativity or his humour. His next film, 7500  is due out later this year and Scared of the Dark is currently in preproduction now.